Tenacity around the glass may be the defining characteristic of Tyler Butler’s game, but she’s doing plenty more than that right now for Belleville East.
The smile that flashes off the court can quickly fade in-game as Butler becomes intense, going around, over and through opponents to grab boards.
“I’m not really scared of contact,” the senior forward said. “I will go up, even if I get hit in the face, I’m just used to the contact. When I usually used to play with my younger brother, he’s just a lot taller than me. I’m used to going up against taller people, getting position, especially since I’m shorter and just go after it.”
Butler was averaging 17.8 point, 14.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks and as of Sunday, Feb. 28, and adding 23 points in an overtime loss to Althoff Catholic Monday.
Sixth-year Lancers head coach Amanda Kemezys has seen plenty of talented players come through the program, but Butler has seen a more meteoric rise than most.
That’s come from her approach to the game.
“Whether you want to call it tenacity or relentless … she does not quit,” Kemezys said. “She just keeps going after rebound after rebound after rebound. I think she has got a really good nose for the ball where she can read the angles of rebounds pretty well and does a really good job of positioning herself and getting a good angle to get a rebound and go back up with it.”
Butler hasn’t always been a basketball star.
In her own words, she was “very short” and “overlooked” as a middle schooler.
Kemezys, who was a teacher in Butler’s middle school (West Branch Middle School in Swansea), remembers Butler then as an admittedly awkward teenager who had to grow into her body. Kemezys said if she were to ask her colleagues then if they would have predicted Butler’s rise, they would be shocked.
A growth spurt came, and the happy-go-lucky Butler found herself competing for varsity minutes as a sophomore. She put up about six points and five rebounds per game while mostly playing behind a group of five seniors on a 20-win Lancers team in 2018-2019.
Butler remembers looking up to Kaylah Rainey, who was limited by a heart condition and is now playing at Northwestern, as well as another particular senior.
“When I was a sophomore I originally looked up to B’Aunce Carter as she played the same position I was,” Butler said. “I was battling with her every practice for rebounds. I feel like that’s where I got really competitive with rebounds as well as scoring against her.”
Butler averaged about 14 points and 9 rebounds per game as a junior in a rebuilding year for the Lancers.
“We didn’t really have as much depth or experience,” Kemezys said. “We knew she was going to be our go-to to begin with this season, but she exceeded expectations already last year. We knew she would again be our star player this year, but she’s put in even more work and expanded her game. During the lockdown and everything the past year, she’s done everything to … expand all her facets.”
Elevating her game as a senior came from countless hours in the gym during COVID isolation, working on ball-handling, extending her shot outward from the basket, free-throw shooting and footwork. Take all that, add in conditioning and Butler’s on-court demeanor, and you have a killer combo.
“She is still playing almost every minute of every game for us,” Kemezys said. “You can’t tell she’s tired ever, just because that’s how hard she works and she just dines’t know any different.”
The increased production has elicited the attention of additional colleges.
“She’s got some offers from some local schools, some junior colleges and some D-III’s so far, so eventually she needs to make a decision here shortly,” Kemezys said. “But I think she’s waiting to see how the rest of this short season goes and the way that she’s putting up big numbers, She’s attracted a couple more coaches in the area for sure.”
A lover of science, Butler’s post-grad decision-making will rely heavily on what colleges can offer her in a number of academic areas. Aside from working on her game last year after the onset of the pandemic, Butler was attending virtual science camps, learning about the medical field, and exploring work among dietitians, pharmaceutical workers, and orthopedic surgery.
“I don’t really have a preference basketballs-wise,” Butler said. “I just prefer a good school that’s known for their science majors which would really hope with getting into medical school also in the future. Basketball-wise I’m pretty open to many schools.”
But she has heard more coaches and recruiters in her ear since her numbers have gone up in this COVID-shortened season.
“Recently these past few weeks, I’ve gotten a lot more (attention) especially since we actually (got) into our senior season,” Butler said. “Before they would have judged based off my junior year highlights, so they didn’t really know what I was working on in the gym before senior season actually started.”
And whether it’s dancing on the sidelines, sending coaches Tik Tok videos that remind her of them or just being goofy in general, Butler has been able to impress her coaches and teammates with her ability to turn on the switch. She’ll go from being the silly center of attention straight into a feisty mode on the court where she plays with a chip on her shoulder.
“It’s just been really fun to watch her progress throughout the years,” Kemezys said. “When you talk of not just leaders as far as what she’s averaging, but on the team as a captain, I think it goes without saying that her hard work earns her that from everybody. Her teammates really respect her.”